How the Philippines rescued Holocaust refugees

SAN DIEGO (Press Release) — San Diego State University lecturer, Dr. Bonnie Harris, recently collaborated with award-winning filmmaker Noel “Sonny” Izon to create the documentary An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines.  Harris, who is a Holocaust scholar, acted as the film’s associate producer and consulting historian. The documentary is based in part on research Harris conducted while she was working on her Ph.D. dissertation at UC Santa Barbara.

The documentary will debut at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9 at  San Diego State University’s Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Center.  It will be shown for free.

The film focuses on testimony from Holocaust survivors who were given a safe haven in the Philippines. It documents how the efforts by the Commonwealth officials of the Philippines saved the lives of more than 1,300 Jews as they fled the pogroms of Nazi Germany.

The majority of the rescues happened between 1937 and 1941, a time when the Philippines was a Commonwealth of the United States. Because of the Commonwealth status of the Philippines granted in 1935, new immigration laws for the islands would not be in place until 1940. In those interim years, immigration required the approval of the President of the United States, represented in the islands by the U.S. High Commissioner, Paul V. McNutt. Because of the quasi-autonomous status of the Philippine Islands, then-President of the Republic of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon, in partnership with McNutt, circumvented the old existing immigration laws and issued visas to Jewish petitioners directly.

“These rescues happened through the explicit invitation of President Quezon,” said Harris. “His humanitarian actions really defied what other statesmen in the United States and the rest of the world were doing and showed what can be accomplished when people put politics to the side and step up to do the right thing when faced with a moral challenge.”

An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines has won a number of international awards, including Best Documentary at the White Knight’s International Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, Best Feature Documentary  at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London, England and Madrid, Spain, as well as a Silver Medal in History, their highest award,  at the 38th Annual Telly Awards.

Preceding provided by Bonnie Harris at San Diego Jewish World‘s request.

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